How Do You Say the Plural Form of 'Octopus'?

iStock.com/richcarey
iStock.com/richcarey

Few people have seen more than one octopus in the same place at the same time—they’re usually solitary creatures, after all—but let’s suppose you did. What would you call them? Octopi? Octopuses? Perhaps octopodes? People have been quibbling over the correct plural form of octopus for well over a century, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and it’s still a sore spot among word-lovers.

Quartz argues that only one way is grammatically correct—and it’s not octopi. Octopus stems from the Greek word oktopous, and technically, Greek words ending in -pus (like platypus) should be made plural by adding -podes (meaning feet) to the end. Latin words, on the other hand, are sometimes made plural with an -i ending—like stimuli and syllabi, for example.

Since the word octopus was originally Greek, it seems only logical that its plural form would be octopodes. Similarly, rhinoceros should become rhinocerotes, and stadium should become stadia. However, using these pretentious plural forms for the sake of grammatical purity would be absurd. Most words that enter English are pluralized according to the rules of English, rather than the rules of their “native form,” Merriam-Webster explains.

That leaves us with octopuses. Indeed, this form is perfectly correct, but some people still cringe when they say it. In the late 1800s, an article entitled “Octopus Philology” declared, “Some daring spirits with little Latin and less Greek rushed upon octopi; as for octopuses, a man would as soon think of swallowing one of the animals thus described as pronounce such a word at a respectable tea-table.” The article went on to recommend the use of octopods, which, fortunately, didn't stick.

However, both Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary list octopi as an acceptable plural alongside octopuses. (Octopi is also a valid Scrabble word.) As the dictionary advises, "If you're interested in choosing the word that is most likely to be considered correct and understandable by your audience you would do well to opt for either octopuses or octopi."

So next time, go easy on the internet stranger in the comments who has just written octopuses—they're not wrong.

[h/t Quartz]

Pandemic vs. Epidemic: What’s the Difference?

If scientists can't develop a vaccine for a new virus quickly enough, an epidemic can turn into a pandemic.
If scientists can't develop a vaccine for a new virus quickly enough, an epidemic can turn into a pandemic.
doble-d/iStock via Getty Images

As the new coronavirus continues to spread around the world, the words epidemic and pandemic are showing up in news reports more often than they usually do. While the terms are closely related, they don’t refer to the same thing.

As the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) explains on its website, “an epidemic occurs when an infectious disease spreads rapidly to many people.” Usually, what precedes an epidemic is an outbreak, or “a sudden rise in the number of cases of a disease.” An outbreak can affect a single community or several countries, but it’s on a much smaller scale than an epidemic.

If an epidemic can’t be contained and keeps expanding its reach, public health officials might start calling it a pandemic, which means it’s affected enough people in different areas of the world to be considered a global outbreak. In short, a pandemic is a worldwide epidemic. It infects more people, causes more deaths, and can also have widespread social and economic repercussions. The spread of the Spanish influenza from 1918 to 1919, which killed between 20 and 40 million people around the world, was a pandemic; more recently, the H1N1 influenza created a pandemic in 2009.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky: There’s no cut-and-dried classification system for outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics. Based on the definitions above, it might seem like the current coronavirus disease, now called COVID-19, falls into the pandemic category already—according to a map from the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 80,000 confirmed cases in 34 countries, and nearly 2700 people have died from the disease. It’s also beginning to impact travel, stock markets, and the global economy as a whole. But WHO maintains that although the situation has the potential to become a pandemic, it’s still an epidemic for now.

“It really is borderline semantics, to be honest with you,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN earlier this month. “I think you could have people arguing each end of it. Pandemics mean different things to different people.”

[h/t APIC.org]

You’re Probably Pronouncing Nevada All Wrong

OwensImaging, iStock via Getty Images
OwensImaging, iStock via Getty Images

As people around the United States were checking who won the Nevada caucus this weekend, many were faced with a different question: How exactly do you pronounce Nevada?

The case of Ne-VAH-duh versus Ne-VAD-uh was thrust into the spotlight recently as candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination toured the state, but the controversy isn't new. George W. Bush and Michelle Obama have been accused of mangling the pronunciation, and in 2016, Donald Trump incorrectly told Nevada residents they were pronouncing the name of their own state wrong. The subject is so sensitive to Nevadans that Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval sent a text to former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination John Kasich instructing him how to say the word.

So what is the right way to say Nevada? University of Nevada in Las Vegas associate history professor Michael Green told The New York Times that Ne-VAD-uh (with the second syllable rhyming with mad) is the standard pronunciation with locals, while saying Ne-VAH-duh (second syllable rhymes with spa) will expose you as a foreigner to the state.

The reason for the confusion may be that Nevada is a Spanish word. Meaning “snow-capped,” Ne-VAH-duh would be the correct pronunciation if you were to say the name in its original tongue. But following a flood of Northern and Midwestern settlers to the state in the 1860s, the hard a prevailed.

Not everyone in Nevada agrees there's one true pronunciation. In 2010, a Las Vegas assemblyman introduced a bill that would have officially made Nev-AH-da an acceptable alternative. The resolution never made it off the ground, and using the Spanish pronunciation will still get you funny looks in the state today—especially if you're a politician.

[h/t The New York Times]

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